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On-the-job training is ideal for retail

Anne Seaman, chief executive of Skillsmart Retail, describes how apprenticeships help to improve management skills and build teams that can work together

Teamwork and team building are crucial to the success of any business, but perhaps no more so than in the retail sector. Our industry is known for its high rates of staff turnover, reliance on part-time staff and the breadth of different departments that must work together efficiently and effectively to get the job done. Skills, training and qualifications are key elements in building a strong team spirit and creating management capable of delivering success.

The apprenticeship is a proven training model that ensures staff have the practical skills and qualifications to help increase productivity, improve competitiveness and form part of a competent workforce. At a time when many UK businesses consider skills shortages and recruitment difficulties a bigger threat to performance than soaring oil prices and declining consumer spending, it is a testament to the programme that more than a quarter of businesses rate apprenticeships higher than any other qualification.

Favoured by many employers for decades, the apprenticeship fell out of favour in the 1990s and 2000s. However, the idea of on-the-job ‘earn while you learn’ applied training has come back to the fore with a renewed purpose.

Government backing

Backed by the previous Labour Government, the new Coalition has embraced the many broad-ranging benefits apprenticeships offer both learners and employers and it has offered significant backing with the announcement of 75,000 new places over the next four years - a trend also being followed in the devolved nations. Make no mistake; an apprenticeship is now the ideal tool both for encouraging teamwork and developing management skills across retail’s diverse workforce.
At a time when the sector is realising it will need to rely on older workers, it is a programme that is available to employees of all ages, with B&Q proudly citing the achievements of a 70-year-old apprentice among its store staff. The programme’s success comes from the fact that it is designed to teach any learner the aspects of a business, the knowledge that provides a bedrock to team working and strong management.

One recent graduate of the programme who can attest to this fact is Ashley Woof, a 22-year-old from Longton, near Preston in Lancashire. Ashley began working for Booths supermarkets, initially part-time, to fit around his studies. Realising college was not the direction he wanted to take, he took up the offer of an apprenticeship aged 18. Instead of being confined to one section of the store, Ashley was soon being given an overview of all aspects of the business, including management. Since completing the course, Ashley has been promoted to the position of fresh food trainee manager and has his sights set on becoming an area manager in the near future.

Not only does a story like Ashley’s prove the effectiveness of the programme in helping an individual reach new heights, it also shows a how an apprenticeship can reinforce a strong team ethic. During Ashley’s training, he worked with numerous other Booths employees from a variety of departments, from sales assistants to stock controllers and managers. Such experience ensures a shared ethos and knowledge that permeates every level of the team, meaning customers get the same quality of service from anyone in the store.

Staff undertaking an apprenticeship also display their intention to succeed to their colleagues, which invariably stimulates ambition across the team. It is such a business-wide culture of learning and nurturing talent, which really sets successful retailers apart. Booths places a great emphasis on training at every level and offers everything from standalone retail qualifications and apprenticeships at levels 2 and 3, but also has a management training programme mapped by Manchester Metropolitan University that leads to a foundation degree in retail.

Improved staff retention

Booths training manager Therese Edmonds says: “Our staff regularly achieve retail qualifications and apprenticeships. Once started, they see it through. At present we have 120 staff working through some form of retail qualification. We definitely find that there is improved staff retention and a significant motivation increase where people are working through a recognised training programme.”

This retention benefit is clearly illustrated by the fact that around 85% of Booths’ management team started with them as students straight from school or college. Not only are they building team spirit, they are providing career pathways that allow employees to see a strong career structure and building management teams of the future.

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